Letters from Ernie: Private Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe in the First World War

By Jennifer Jamieson, Archives Volunteer
With thanks to Lisa Moss, Archives Officer

“Just a line to let you know I am going on alright. Hope you and all at home are the same.”

In 2014 the letters of Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe were donated by his family in digital form to Southwark Local History Library and Archive. Ernest Parker was born in 1893 to Thomas and Sarah Parker. It is likely that he left school aged 11 in 1904 after the death of his father and worked as a clerk for a produce packer.

Private Ernest Parker joined the British forces during the First World War, and embarked for Salonika in November 1916. He sent numerous letters back to his family on Hawkestone Road in Rotherhithe during his time in Greece, offering descriptions of the conditions that he was encountering, his hopes for a safe return home, and always, caring enquiries as to his many other family members (he was one of 8 children!) His notes were always signed affectionately using his nickname “Ernie.” Unfortunately, just as the hostilities had ceased and his return home was within reach, he was admitted to the military hospital with pneumonia and did not recover from the ailment, dying there on the 4th of February 1919. Right until the end, he was finding ways to send his affectionate best wishes back to his family, even asking one of the hospital nurses to write his final letter home.

Southwark Local History Library and Archive has many of these letters and Ernest’s Territorial Force identification card, showing that he was appointed to the Durham Light Infantry during the war.Ernest Parker’s Territorial Force identification card

At Christmas, Ernie sent his greetings back to his family, including this card that was addressed to his sister Ada, and an embroidered card for his Mum, Sarah Louise Parker.

Christmas Card from Salonika

Embroidered Chrismas Card "To my der mother"

Reporting back to his sister Beatrice (whom he called “Beat”) in December 1917, Ernie described his own Christmas season in Salonika, telling her “Well how did you spend your Christmas. We had a decent time here, turkey, Christmas pudding and a pint for dinner. The weather has been rotten here lately, raining nearly every day, up to your eyes in mud…”Letter to Beatrice 27 December 1917

In a letter to his Mum dated August 8, 1918, Ernie described his outlook, that he was soon “going to get leave, well I am in hopes getting it within the next few months or years. I am not sure which.” Yet a month later, in a letter dated September 14, 1918, he reported back to his Mum that “Well I thought we should stand a chance of getting a leave this year but what I see of it now I don’t think it will come off.”

But then another turnaround a few months later, as he wrote to his Mum on November 8, 1918 (image below), “As you say, we have been having some grand news lately. I don’t think it will be long now before it is finished. I don’t think it will be long now before we get home.”Letter from Ernerst to his mother 8 November 1918

He wasn’t able to get home for Christmas that year, but in January 2019, reported back to his Mum that his return home was within reach, save for a few bureaucratic details: “they have started demobilising from here and it is only by a bit of rotten luck that I am not away already. I received a letter from the firm saying that my job was still open but it was not stamped by the Local Advisory Committee at home and that is where the delay is coming in. A couple of chaps received the letters stamped and they were away a few days after. Some of the men over forty one are going home tomorrow.”

Around the same time, on January 21, 1919, he sent a letter to his older brother Tom, who was himself fighting in the First World War, showing that he was happily anticipating his return home: “Well old sport I think this about all I have to tell you now so hoping to see you shortly and wishing you the best of luck. I remain your affectionate brother, Ernie.”Letter to Tom, 21 January 1919

Unfortunately, the documents in our collections then show that for all of Ernie’s hope, optimism and readiness to return, he encountered  even more rotten luck shortly after these letters to his Mum and brother were written. His Mum received a letter written on February 2, 1919, at the military hospital in Greece, reporting that Ernie had caught pneumonia and that “he is very ill, he is getting all the care and attention possible.”Letter 2 February 1919 from Milieary Hospital in Salonika

But worse news was yet to come. On February 6, 2019, the hospital Chaplain sent Ernie’s Mum the unfortunate news that her son had died a few days earlier. In this letter, the Chaplain described how Ernie had shared his fondness for his family up until the end: “He spoke very affectionately of you all, and said he would love to get home. I did not like to tell him I thought he would die, for I did not want to depress him for fear it might go against any chance of recovery. I am greatly grieved about his death. For I had formed a very good opinion of him.”

Ernie had also made an impression on the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge, who also shared her fond words in a letter to his Mum on February 6, 2019: “I asked him the day before he died if he had been writing home, and he said “Yes”, so I said as he was not able to write himself, I would do it for him, And he was pleased, and said to tell you that he was “getting on all right” and to give you and his sisters his love. He was a good patient, always smiling till the last and was conscious right up till an hour or so before he died, which was just before midnight.”Letter from the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge 2 February 1919Blog 9

Ernest “Ernie” Parker received British War and Victory Medals and he was buried at the British Military Cemetery at Mikra, Thessaloniki, Greece “with full military honours”.

Blog 10

Photo courtesy of Janis Birchall.

 

Archive Volunteer Diaries Part 1: Volunteering at Southwark Local History Library & Archive

Hello readers! This is Jennifer, and I’m a volunteer at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive.

Back in April, having worked on some projects for a non-profit arts foundation that involved researching old theatre records, I was inspired to seek out some new opportunities to get more involved in archiving. Given that my day job is just a short walk away on the South Bank, I thought that volunteering here would be a nice chance to give back to my “work neighbourhood,” while also giving me a great opportunity to embed in the craft of archiving and lJennifer 1ots of fascinating local history. I reached out to the lovely folks here to get involved, and they have kindly welcomed me into their family as a volunteer.

 It’s an amazing facility, full of resources like historic maps, local records, films, terminals with access to online databases, photographs of all sorts of places around the borough, and folders full of press clippings and pamphlets all related to the goings-on around Southwark, past and present. I’ve been popping in for a few hours on an almost weekly basis since early May, and in this Volunteer Diaries series, I will be sharing some of the stories and discoveries that I uncover.

Delightful Discoveries

Here was one of my early first Delightful Discoveries from the collection. The very first folder that I opened for my volunteer work contained a press cutting with a story featuring our own Archivist Patricia Dark! And what a neat story, all about how a passerby spotted “a big box of old Victorian documents, some from 1885, left out for bin men on Borough High Street” in 2016, a treasure trove and “really fantastic addition” for SLHLA.

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Other discoveries: Did you know that a life-sized stuffed polar bear disappeared from the Horniman Museum in 1948? This 2006 story in the museum’s press cuttings folder describes how the bear may have been loaned to a department store for a “flamboyant Christmas window display” in 1948, or perhaps it was sold to a dealer at that time. “The fate of the polar bear has long been of interest to us,” said the museum’s director, who was working to track it down. The article jokingly offers some hints as to where the polar bear could have ended up, taking the opportunity to roll-up a series of bear and snow-related locations around Southwark, including Bear Lane, Snowsfields in Borough, and Bermondsey’s Winter Lodge.

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From the Bermondsey Abbey folder: Did you know that Southwark was spelled as Sowthewerke in the days of Henry VIII?

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And finally, fans of street art will appreciate this historic nod to the craft in the Bermondsey Abbey press cuttings folder, describing how medieval graffiti was found during excavations of the abbey site.

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Southwark and the Mayflower Part 1: Bankside

From November 2019 the London Borough of Southwark will be involved in a year-long commemoration marking the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower. This ship sailed from England to America in 1620 carrying a range of passengers, some of whom were English puritans fleeing religious persecution. As well as being a touchstone of American history, this story resonates with contemporary themes of migration, tolerance and religious freedom.

If you walk around the northern part of this borough you will encounter numerous buildings, names and locations that are connected to the Mayflower story. Historian Graham Taylor has thoroughly researched and mapped all of these links and we will be sharing his findings with you in the coming weeks as we start the countdown to Mayflower 400.

Clink Street

Clink Street used to be part of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace and the preserved remains of the palace’s Great Hall are still to be seen. The Clink Prison, dating back to 1144, was also part of the Palace. Several prominent members of the Brownist movement (followers of Puritan church leader Robert Browne) were imprisoned here for their beliefs. These included John Greenwood, Henry Borrowe, Francis Johnson and Henry Jacob. It was Jacob whose reformed church in Southwark was so crucial in facilitating the voyage of the Mayflower.

In 1961 the US Consul General, Donald Smith, unveiled a Plaque of Remembrance at Clink Street. The inscription read:

Fifty yards eastwards of this spot there stood the Clink Prison where in the years 1576 to 1593 JOHN GREENWOOD and HENRY BORROWE founded a church (today the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial Church) from those imprisoned for refusal to obey the Act of Uniformity of Worship. They, with John Penry, a member of the Church, were Martyred for Religious Liberty. Francis Johnson was the first Minister. This Church helped to secure the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 and a number of its members were among the ship’s company. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty’.

This memorial was the gift of Americans in London, some of whom were descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Winchester palace

The remains of Winchester Palace, Clink Street, c.1800. Today visitors can still see the  remaining walls of the Great Hall, including a magnificent rose window.

Deadman’s Place, Thrale Street

This was the site of Southwark’s Pilgrim Church from around 1640 to 1788. It consisted of a meeting-house and burial-ground just south of Park Street and adjacent to the original Globe Theatre. Here was buried Alexander Cruden, author of the Bible Concordance, useful ever since to Christians of all denominations. This Pilgrim church, stood in the premises later occupied by Barclay’s Brewery. It was included in Southwark Council’s 1970 Pilgrim Trail, and at present the remains lie under the Southwark Bridge car park in Thrale Street.

The Anchor Tavern

This pub is a surviving remnant of the huge Barclay Perkins Brewery, which covered the area from the Thames down to Southwark Street. In 1781 Robert Barclay bought the Anchor brewery for £135,000 from the Thrale family. The Barclays were themselves Nonconformists and the surviving Pilgrim Church therefore flourished in the cooperage of the Barclay Brewery.

Barclay perkins

The Barclay Perkins Brewery, 1841

The Globe Theatre

In Park Street there is a plaque marking the site of the original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by William Shakespeare’s playing company. This plaque was formerly on the wall of the Barclay brewery and close to the Pilgrim Church.  Shakespeare was clearly aware of the Brownist Pilgrims and undertakings across the Atlantic. In Twelfth Night one of his characters. Andrew Aguecheek says, “I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician.”

The Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, was active in the Virginia Company  (a joint-stock company that established settlements on the coast of North America). An account was sent to the company when one of their ships bound for Bermuda was dramatically wrecked. This text clearly influenced Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, and probably King Lear.

globe

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, near Park Street, c.1600

 

Next week: Bermondsey

 

‘Silent Raid’: The story of the lost houses of Burgess Park

by Sally Hogarth, Artist

Sally Hogarth Artwork cropped ‘Silent Raid’ is a series of house sculptures commissioned to commemorate the people and places impacted by a WWI Zeppelin bomb that landed on Calmington Road, which once stood where Burgess Park is located today.

Reminiscent of the terrace houses that were destroyed in the raid and of varying shades found in traditional red bricks, each house represents one of the lives lost in the incident, with each house; large, medium or small representing each man, woman and child.

Like the bands of colour used in mapping bomb damage, the shade of each house darkens with increased proximity to the bomb site. Every house is etched with a quote from documents and reports on the incident, both past and present. The art deco font used is inspired by the lettering on the original commemorative plaque. A new plaque can be found in Chumleigh Gardens in the centre of the park.

Calmington Road 1977 p9968

The process involved meeting with The Friends of Burgess Park and investigating their thorough research archive, including recorded photographs, social commentaries and interviews with survivors and families involved in the incident. Meeting with local historians at the Southwark Local History Library and Archives, I learned about the extent of the bomb damage that the area suffered along with news reports and archives of the unfortunate event.

World War I Zeppelin Raid 1917 edit p17257

Damage to houses in Albany Road, 1917

After spending time in the park itself, I came to appreciate that the area where the park stands today had once been covered by buildings and houses which were destroyed by war. The absence of their existence and public awareness of this in the present day created a powerful feeling I wanted to convey in the work.

Another important issue I sought to address is the home face of war. The nature of this project is unusual in that it commemorates a war incident that happened on home soil rather than far away battlefields. In an age of a mounting refugee crisis, highlighting the living memory of the ground beneath our own feet facing bombs and destruction becomes a significant message.

A lot of the anecdotes and memories of the event had domestic contexts, from toys found amongst the debris, to fish and chips and piano playing. The contrast between these everyday, familiar and comforting images and the violence that disrupted them feels like a poignant crux of the incident.

This has been reflected in the project with the houses having an almost dolls-house feel. The scale of the houses, particularly the smallest, means that they have a certain vulnerability about them whilst the impressions on their surface that suggest windows and doors have a more sinister feel. The research included news reports that recall ‘windows hurled headlong’ and striking images of door frames standing empty without their doors.

Researching into Zeppelins and their bombs led me to find strangely colourful diagrams of the rings of their destruction. Also the records of WWI and WWII building damage in the Lambeth Archives used a gradient of colour to plot the severity of damage. This, paired with the difficulty of plotting the exact spot where the bomb landed, led me to the concept of creating a trail and colour code to the houses. The houses are scattered in a debris-like manner across the park darkening in colour with proximity to where Calmington Road once stood.

bomb map

Extract from the London County Council’s WWII bomb damage map series showing gradations in colour.

In all, I sought to ignite visitors’ interest to uncover the story of Calmington Road and the streets that once stood beneath their feet. I also aimed to create an experience for regular park visitors to discover a new house or inscription with each visit, creating a story that unfolds and is passed on between locals. The houses become a prop or a prompt for a story, to start a conversation that gets passed between park visitors and as such the story of this incident will be passed on to future generations.

Decolonising the Archive presents WIndrush Time Capsule at the Africa Centre

Decolonising The Archive (DTA) is an arts and heritage organisation dedicated to preserving and sharing the stories of the African diaspora in innovative ways. They research and present multidisciplinary programmes with the aim of stimulating public engagement with the past in order to affect the future.

Throughout 2018, DTA has been enjoying a residency at The Africa Centre in Southwark. Developing projects in a space which is proud of its past, yet passionate about the future has been a fantastic fit for their work, supporting DTA to push boundaries with programmes that have touched on everything from Dogon cosmology and Dancehall to Afrofuturism.

For Black History Month DTA will be presenting a play developed as a unique response to this year’s Windrush scandal. Focusing on the present and future legacies of the Windrush Generation. Playwright Connie Bella’s ‘Windrush Time Capsule’ draws on original archival sources to create a timely piece addressing the strong private and public reactions to this moment in history. In keeping with the themes of past and future, the play also provides a platform for promising young African and diaspora talent. The play is staged in collaboration with the promising young Director David Gilbert (S&K Project) and the fantastically creative Stage Designer Kaajel Patel. Part of the project will see a time-line installation exhibited in Canada Water Theatre and Library which will be freely accessible to the public. The installation will be accompanied by a learning resource aimed at learners from key stage 2 upwards.

The Windrush Time Capsule will be performed at the Africa Centre on Friday 26th October and Saturday 27th October. The associated installation will open for preview on Thursday 8th November and will be accessible until Thursday 29th November.

Sculptures by George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly

Q & A with playwright Connie Bella

How did George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly’s sculpture ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ inspire the play?

CB: In the field of Genetics, the Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line purely through their mothers, and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on one woman. The artist George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly was inspired to sculpt a piece representing this and for me, his sculpture embraces the concepts of Mother, of memory and the forming of history through the feminine. Aspects of the play explore characteristics like nurturing, organizing and protecting which I believe this original female would need to have in order to secure a future for her lineage.

Fowokan is an avid collector of material relating to the UK black art scene among other things. Is this why you see him as a living archive?

CB: Although his collection of material is vast, I would say that Fowokan is an archive due to the experience he has amassed during the course of his life. He has travelled extensively and has had the opportunity to meet and learn from some extremely interesting and influential people. He is a self-taught artist, and for me, the process of teaching yourself anything preserves valuable information inside you which it is important to document and share.

You mentioned that Windrush Time Capsule is S+K’s launch production for Southwark. Will they be doing more in the area?

CB: Yes, this is their first production south of the Thames as most of their work is usually shared in North London. I know they are currently in talks for some exciting projects in Southwark next year so watch this space!

How can history, memory and community contribute to regeneration in Southwark?

CB: Southwark has a very rich history and over the years has become a very diverse community. I think times are very tough for many people in the UK as a whole, and especially in London as prices continue to rise and milestones like owning a property which used to be attainable are now out of reach for many. For me, it is an important time to be working with memory and history, reflecting on the past in the borough and beyond and remembering our tribulations and our triumphs. I think history has the power to enable us to consider situations in different ways and help develop solutions to the issues we face. Regeneration is not just the preserve of planning departments, it can apply to our mental outlook too.

Southwark Park Lido

Guest blog from local historian, Pat Kingwell

With summer here how lovely to see so many children and their parents in Southwark Park playground.  I wonder how many of them realise the swings and slides they are enjoying are located on what was once an outdoor swimming pool!  ‘The Lido’, as it was known by local people, was closed to the public in 1992 due to unsustainable costs. In 1999 the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to fund improvements in Southwark Park, but alas the lido could not be rescued.  A much-needed playground was created instead, though the structure of the original pool remains in place, hidden below the surface.

The idea of a ‘bathing lake’ had first been suggested in 1891, but it was not until September 1923 that a reinforced concrete outdoor pool was achieved by the London County Council. It cost £4,999 (about £150,000 today) and was impressively large – over 55m long, 18m wide and in parts over 2m in depth.  To begin with it was open all-year round, but there were no changing facilities, just benches, and bathers were screened from the rest of the park by an earth bank formed from the excavated material.  However, by 1924 ten individual changing rooms and two communal dressing sheds were provided.

Initially there was no charge to use the lido, but costumes, slips and towels had to be hired.

The pool quickly became popular and the Southwark Recorder of 25th June 1926 reported:

“During the recent heat wave the number of swimmers using the open-air bath at Southwark Park leaped to the substantial total of about 1,200 a day.  In the height of the season, when the weather is most favourable, it is no unusual occurrence for the weekly average of bathers and swimmers to be maintained about 5,000.  During this period of the year the baths are open from 6 a.m. till about 8.45.”

During the 1920s the moral issue of mixed bathing greatly exercised the minds of the authorities, and it was not until the summer of 1930 that it was allowed, but only on two days a week, including Sunday.  To take part in a mixed session cost 6d (about £1 today). From the outset one day a week had been reserved for women only, an arrangement which in 1933 the South London Press felt obliged to comment upon:

“At Southwark Park during the lunch hour a crowd of males stood listening with envious ears to the sounds of happy laughter within.  Inside, Eve, free from male presence and attired in the flimsiest of costume, gamboled and sported like mermaids in a summer sea.  A sylph-like creature in a brilliant green costume poised for a moment silhouetted against the sky and cut the water like a rapier.  The men mopped their brows and tried to get into the indoor baths, whose opening times are not easily ascertained.”

 

By the late 1930s a trip to ‘The Lido’ was a regular part of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe life, which even the Second World War could not totally disrupt.  Although much of Southwark Park became a military base, and the lido itself was bomb damaged, the public continued to have a typically very cold ‘dip’ throughout the hostilities.  For about thirty-five post-war years they continued to do so in an increasingly revitalised park. Better changing rooms were installed and by summer 1949 it was reported more than a thousand people per day were attending.  In 1954 a new café and fountain added to the attraction.  Greater access was encouraged through low charges, or none at all in the case of older and visually-impaired people, and by 1957 the South London Press could report on a heatwave day:

“Park regulations about decency in dress were cheerfully ignored by all, and bikinis were not thought out of place in the streets.”

In 1971 Southwark Park was devolved by the Greater London Council to Southwark Council. A few good years for the lido followed but diminishing use, wear and tear and unsustainable running costs cast a shadow over its future. In 1981 it was closed, only in the face of public outcry to re-open a year later.  In 1984 the café building was closed to become an art gallery under the management of Bermondsey Artists Group.  The lido itself struggled on until 1992, when it was permanently closed. For a decade it lay as a sad eyesore in the centre of the park, much lamented by the local community, until the site was replaced with the current children’s playground.  Occasionally there is talk about building another lido in Southwark Park – now that would be something.

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Appeal for images:

Unfortunately we don’t have any photographs of the Southwark Park Lido in our collections.  If you have any photographs which you would like to donate to the Local History Library and Archive please get in touch: LHLibrary@southwark.gov.uk